In conversation with a friend, I said something similar to the following statement: “Too often church music is performed by people with the right heart, but it’s lacking in excellence.”
My friend responded in an unexpected way.
He informed me that in the study of business, “but” is called an “eraser word.” He explained by using the following illustration: suppose the boss of the company where you’ve worked for years calls you into his office and says, “I want you to know that all of us at the company appreciate the hard work you’ve done over the past several years, but…”
Where does your mind immediately go? In that split second, whatever positive qualifications the boss has just made have been “erased” from your mind and replaced with the fear of what negative statement is about to ensue. With the utterance of that tiny word “but,” you suddenly get the idea that the first half of the sentence was a buffer of token praise designed to soften the more significant blow about to fall. “But” is an “eraser word.”
Similarly, saying of someone who sings in church, “He has the right heart, but…” erases the idea of a right heart from the listener’s mind and implies that the second half of the sentence will introduce a quality distinct from and more important than the right heart – in the case of my statement, excellence.
Thus “but” not only erases, but it also polarizes. My friend went on to say that the statement, “We want heart in church music, but we want excellence” creates a false polarity between heart and excellence, as if they are opposite ends of some spectrum.
I began to realize that I viewed much of church ministry on this spectrum. On one end were the people whose “heart is in the right place,” but who lack in competent execution. On the other end are those who strive for excellence, but don’t have the right heart about it.
This seems to be a common idea among those in ministry – that there must be a proper balance between “heart” and “excellence”. However, as my friend pointed out to me that day, this simply is not true. A Biblical case cannot be made for such a dichotomy between the two.
How can we say that a person’s heart is in the right place if it does not, in recognition of the greatness of its Creator, strive to offer Him nothing but its very best, whether in church music or any other aspect of church work? A preacher with the right heart will diligently prepare, practice, and train to deliver God’s message with all the excellence it is due. A bus driver with the right heart will be thorough in his inspection, meticulously careful in his driving, and well-informed of laws. A nursery worker whose heart is in the right place will ask questions of others and spend time learning how to best care for the children of the church.
And how can we say that a church worker is really striving for God-worthy excellence if their heart is not right? In my experience, those who “strive for excellence” to impress others rather than to serve God will usually do just enough to keep other people impressed. As long as they keep getting praise, they will feel no need to develop more excellence. Such a person is striving for applause, not Godly excellence.
Those who have a right heart about ministry will strive to be their very best in the sight of a worthy God. Those who are truly striving for excellence in God’s eyes, not just men’s applause, will have a right heart.
Church leaders, there is no reason to fear calling for excellence in ministry. There is no reason to fear calling for a right heart in ministry. If a member truly gets hold of one of these concepts, he cannot but get hold of the other as well. Let’s eliminate the imaginary spectrum, the false dichotomy, the damaging polarity between heart and excellence, and instead lead our church members to serve with excellence from the heart!